A new rule change would allow social workers to reject LGBTQ clients or those with disabilities.
Texas social workers are outraged over a rule change pushed by the state's Republican governor, which would allow discrimination against LGBTQ clients and those with disabilities.
The Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners voted unanimously in favor of the change on Monday. The decision means social workers are no longer banned from rejecting LGBTQ clients or people with disabilities, the Texas Tribune reported.
Previous protections for LGBTQ people were put in place in 2010 and 2012, for sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, respectively. Gov. Greg Abbott's office requested they be removed, claiming they went beyond the state law's protections, according to board members who spoke with the Tribune.
The Texas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers disputed the argument that the protections went further than state law because the state Occupations Code authorizes the regulatory board to "make rules regarding the ethical delivery of social work."
"Social workers already have the ability to decline to provide services to a client based on their competencies and training, but they cannot discriminate based on selective personal values," they said in statement.
Some social workers said they were incensed over the change and even doubted that the news was legitimate at first.
Creean White works in community mental health at a psychiatric clinic in San Antonio. After seeing the news on Reddit, she noted that others "were asking if it was even real."
White said the individual social workers she knows oppose the rule.
"...It is incredibly shocking," she said.
White said she contacted Abbott's office and her state senators and representatives to voice concern and "[get] the word out" to other social workers.
It's already difficult enough for LGBTQ clients to get the assistance they need, she added.
"I have absolutely heard stories from clients on how hard it is to find providers and even once they have found providers that seemingly are allies to the community, they face so much discrimination and terrible experiences and are not able to have basic health care because of it," White said.
"I think it's important to remember that social workers are in many different areas of health care and there are people seeking services for housing, for employment, for mental health."
White said the fact that more than 100 Texas counties are experiencing an existing shortage of social workers and mental health professionals makes her particularly concerned for LGBTQ people in those counties who may be turned away.
Leah Huddleston, who is located in Austin and works at Central Health, said she has done social work for 30 years. She has experience working with people with disabilities, people who have been involved in intimate partner violence, people living with HIV, those experiencing homelessness, and those who are incarcerated. Huddleston said the change is "unconscionable" and that, as someone in the LGBTQ community, it was particularly upsetting.
LGBTQ people in rural counties will suffer as a result of the change, she said.
"Being gay myself, this is especially infuriating," she said. "I am also from a rural county and it's especially infuriating because I understand what it's like to live isolated like that knowing that if anybody found out, anybody, you would just be fucked."
She added, "It's a huge risk if you live in rural places in Texas to even ask for help ... no one who would turn someone away for their disability or sexual orientation or their gender expression should ever be a social worker. They should not be licensed. But Texas is saying, 'Sure let's license these people and if they do that kind of behavior let's not sanction them.'"
Huddleston said that she is upset the board has "rubber-stamped" the change without talking to the National Association of Social Workers or its Texas branch.
Since LGBTQ people are more likely to be incarcerated, live in poverty, lack health insurance, and are particularly vulnerable when experiencing homelessness, social workers say it's especially important they have access to the services they need.
The elimination of these protections has merged with another crisis: the coronavirus pandemic.
The outbreak alone has weighed heavily on LGBTQ people's mental health. According to a survey released earlier this month by the Center for American Progress, 6 in 10 LGBTQ respondents said they felt down, depressed, hopeless, or had trouble sleeping because of the virus. Two-thirds of respondents said they felt anxious that they or a loved one would get the virus.
Higher percentages of LGBTQ youth compared to cisgender and straight youth say they had experienced depression and felt suicidal.
Abbott's actions are in line with his record of anti-LGBTQ decision-making since becoming governor. In 2017, he signed a bill that allows child welfare providers to rely their "sincerely held religious beliefs" when rejecting children or parents. Those who opposed the legislation said it would allow providers to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
Two former members of Texas's judicial disciplinary board also claimed Abbott pushed them out last year after they voted to sanction a judge who wouldn't officiate weddings for same-sex couples, according to the Houston Chronicle. Abbott's office claimed in response to the allegations that "all appointment decisions are made based solely on merit."
And last year, Abbott signed a bill known as the "Save Chick-fil-A bill," which states that the government can't take action against businesses or individuals because of their support for or donations to religious groups.
The bill followed a decision from San Antonio City Council to approve a concessions contract for its airport which excluded Chick-fil-A, the fast-food restaurant controversial for its donations to anti-LGBTQ groups.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.